Robert J Landes

Robert J Landes

World War II

    Webster's dictionary defines a hero as 'a man distinguished by exceptional courage'. Such a man was Ensign Robert J Landes of the United States Navy during WW2. He was stationed on the USS Reid in the Pacific and refused to leave his sinking ship until he was assured his men were safe. The destroyer had been attacked by 12 kamikazes.

    Robert Landis was born in Salt Lake City, Utah on January 28, 1922. His father Herbert was from Ohio and was president of Landes Engineering in Salt Lake. His mother Harriet was born in Kansas and was a homemaker. He had an older brother, Herbert Jr, who was a Captain with the Quartermaster Corps in Belgium. Robert was a graduate of East High School and attended the University of Utah . He graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Engineering. He was also a lifetime member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity. After graduating midshipman school in New York, he served with the engineering staff as an Ensign on the destroyer USS Reid.

    The USS Reid was a Mayan class destroyer, one of a series of 18 ships built in the late 1930's. The Mayan was the name of the lead ship of the set and all 18 had many improvements of past destroyers. The USS Reid participated in training and fleet maneuvers, escorting of troop transports, bombardment of beach heads, amphibious landings, anti-aircraft and submarine warfare. The destroyer also supported air strikes in several locations; New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Guadalcanal. The ship spent its final 2 weeks in the waters near Leyte, Philippines. The crew was only able to sleep one or 2 hours at a time as they were being called to battle stations on the average of 10 times a day. On December 11, 1944, while escorting reinforcements off the west coast of Leyte , the USS Reid destroyed 7 Japanese planes. They were then escorting a resupply force of amphibious craft bound for Ormoc Bay. 12 enemy planes approached the convoy and the USS Reid was the nearest ship to the oncoming planes. It was a kamikaze attack. Planes one and two were shot down by the destroyer. Plane three exploded off the starboard beam and plane four hooked a wing on the starboard rigging and crashed at the waterline, its bomb exploded and caused considerable damage. Plane five and six must have had dud bombs but plane five strafed the starboard side then crashed port bow. Plane seven strafed and crashed into port quarter and its bomb exploded in the after magazine and blew the ship apart. All of this happened in minutes. The Reid was still doing 20 knots but was mortally wounded. The stern then opened up and the ship rolled violently and lay over on her starboard side and dove to the bottom, 3600 feet down. One hundred three crewmen died , the one hundred fifty survivors were strafed by Japanese planes before they were rescued. They were picked up by landing craft that were in the convoy. The USS Reid received 7 battle stars for its service during WW2.

    The Navy citation for Ensign Landes revealed that " with the ship seriously damaged and listing badly and in imminent danger of sinking, he immediately proceeded to the top of Number 1 fire room hatch to acertain the extent of damage and to render assistance wherever possible. Upon hearing the order to abandon ship he refused to leave until he was assured of his mens safety. He proceeded below deck to aid in the evacuation of his men. While carrying out his perilous task, he lost his life when the ship capsized." The citation concludes, " His daring aggressiveness, great personal valor and grave concern and safety of others in the face of almost certain death reflects the highest credit upon Ensign Landes and the United States Navy. He gallantly gave his life in service of his country.".

    Ensign Landes' death wasn't reported until January 20, 1945. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism and the Purple Heart. His is memorialized at Sea Tablets of the Missing, Ft William McKinley, Manilla, Philippines and at Memory Grove in Salt Lake City. A memorial was held at the University Ward by the Sigma Chi Fraternity. He was survived by his parents and brother.

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    This story is part of the Stories Behind the Stars project (see This is a national effort of volunteers to write the stories of all 400,000+ of the US WWII fallen here on Fold3. Can you help write these stories? Related to this, there will be a smart phone app that will allow people to visit any war memorial or cemetery, scan the fallen's name and read his/her story.